Nine of 14 Conservative leadership candidates debate in Vancouver

Topics included taxation, housing, and international relations
Tristan Johnston, Coordinating Editor & Joseph Keller, Web Editor

debate (2)
(Tristan Johnston)

As the 2019 federal election inches ever closer, the Conservative Party of Canada is searching for it’s new direction.

The party is currently at a crossroad after the departure of Stephen Harper who led them for eleven years, nine of which he spent as Prime Minister. In 2015, the party lost big in the federal election, dropping from 158 to just 99 seats. Now the Tories are seeking a new leader who can re-energize the party’s base while holding to the values and principles that make the Conservatives what they are.

Many of the candidates who wish to lead the Conservative Party against the Trudeau Liberals in 2019 again in Vancouver at the Vogue Theater last Sunday to debate policies and test each other in quick, question period-style retorts.

The event was hosted by the Vancouver Conservatives and moderated by Kirk Lapointe, former CBC ombudsman and newspaper executive. All candidates had equal time to respond to questions with all of them being given red and yellow cards to spend for extra response time. Kevin O’Leary, Kellie Leitch, Maxime Bernier, Deepak Obhrai and Pierre Lemieux were not present. The debate wasn’t an official Conservative Party event, and thus attendance wasn’t mandatory.

Student Debt

Lisa Raitt, MP of Milton in Ontario, formerly minister of transport, then labour under Harper, was asked if she supports free post-secondary education in Canada.

Raitt noted that she herself came out of school $100,000 in debt. Despite this, Raitt says she does not see free tuition as the answer.

“As Prime Minister I would help find jobs for people coming out of university. I would help the private sector create those jobs for those coming out of university. I think it’s appropriate that there is an admission fee. Giving it away for free isn’t going to actually accomplish anything,” Raitt said.

In his response to Raitt, Erin O’Toole—MP for Durham Ontario—didn’t go as far as supporting free post-secondary education, but recognized a need for Canada to do more in financially supporting post-secondary students.

“If things are broken for a generation, you fix the system,” says O’Toole. O’Toole argues that his “Generation Kickstart Program” will more than double the basic tax exemption for students for three to five years.


Michael Chong and Andrew Saxton were asked during their one-on-one debate if they support the federal carbon tax as a way to reduce Canadian greenhouse gas emissions.

Saxton, MP of North Vancouver from 2008-2015 and former Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, came out strong against the national carbon tax.

“Having a lower carbon tax is not going to lower emissions. It’s simply going to shift emissions south of the border to the United States as producers pack up and leave and take tens of thousands of jobs with them,” Saxton said. “As Prime Minister of Canada I will axe the tax.”

Saxton went on to pledge that, as Prime Minister, he would negotiate a joint agreement with the United States to address greenhouse gas emissions.

Michael Chong, MP of Wellington—Halton Hills since 2004, has voted against his party 12 times since Dec. 2015. He describes himself as the “most conservative on environmental policy to reduce emissions,” and supports a carbon tax. Chong referred to the B.C. carbon tax introduced in 2008 for his argument that greenhouse gas output can be reduced while also growing the economy.

“It’s not perfectly revenue neutral but it’s almost revenue neutral. What that approach has demonstrated is that, as a Conservative, the cheapest way, the most economically efficient way, is a revenue neutral carbon tax.”

U.S. Relations

Lapointe asked the candidates what they would tell Donald Trump that Trudeau wouldn’t.

“I would tell Mr. Trump that Canada has a unique role in being their ally, their largest trading partner, and best friend in the world,” said O’Toole. “So when he’s looking to other NATO countries who aren’t pulling their weight, I would say, ‘Mr. Trump, under an O’Toole government, we would meet our 2 per cent NATO target.’” He also said that Trudeau agreed to renegotiate NAFTA before being asked, and that it “[wasn’t] leadership.”

“Frankly, I would do what the current Prime Minister has done,” said Chong. “I thought it was a very well-executed trip, and I think kudos should be given when it’s due.” Chong also mentioned that Trudeau consulted former Prime Ministers and other Conservatives before going to meet Trump, and that Trudeau represented Canada’s interests.

“I would not cave-in one sector of the economy for another,” said Steven Blaney, emphasizing the importance of negotiating softwood lumber. Blaney has been the MP for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis since 2006, and is the former minister of public safety and emergency preparedness.

Andrew Scheer, MP for Regina—Qu’Appelle since 2004 and former Speaker of the House, suggested that he would form better relations with American companies dependent on the Canadian economy, encouraging them to put pressure on the Trump administration for better economic policies, and that he would repeal a carbon tax.


On the subject of marijuana, many candidates appeared to be against the idea of legalization in the first place, and instead focused on what they would do if the Liberals managed to legalize before 2019.

Both Blaney and O’Toole suggested a ticketing system that would function as an element of decriminalization.

“I’m going to get real with everyone in the room,” said Raitt. “If we run an election in 2019 on the platform of recriminalizing marijuana, we will face the same result as we faced in 2015. Don’t let the discussion we’re having on stage determine the outcome.” The statement was met with applause from the audience and Raitt continued, stating that the Conservatives should focus on the current government’s economic performance.

Though the event lasted a few hours, the last part of the debate asked each of the candidates what ideas they liked which were proposed by the others. For the most part, many candidates appreciated the electoral reform efforts of Michael Chong, and the foreign policy experience of Chris Alexander.